Customer focus lessons from a meeting gone horribly wrong


Recently I sat in on a meeting with one of my clients and a business that was presenting to them and I was shocked by the presentation.

My client, Byron, was the CEO at an early stage tech company looking to raise more investor money. I was there to work with him to improve his pitching skills and rebuild his investor presentation.

The meeting was with Steve a partner from a local consulting firm that the CEO had met at a networking event. I had Googled the company and the partner before I went to the meeting (as I usually do) and discovered that they were business performance coaches. I was curious and agreed to sit in.

Introduction and small talk aside Steve launched into his presentation. He talked about how his firm could revamp the business starting with working with the senior management team to reprioritize their goals and then replacing the website and running a series of organizational training sessions for the management team, product development team and the sales team. The goal of all this was to make them more customer focused.  He talked for about 30 minutes pretty much non-stop.

When Steve finally finished I asked about his meeting with the rest of the management team and the development team. There wasn’t one

He never met the management team.

He never talked to anyone else in the company.

He had not seen their product.

He never met or talked with any of their customers.

His whole recommendation was based on his meeting with the CEO at an event two weeks before were they had spoken for about five minutes.

So I pressed him for more details. He told me that in studies the number one thing any small business needs is to be more customer focused. I agreed that customer focus is very important and asked him what were the key points he would be working to improve. He then talked about how they would establish new rules for project management, weekly and daily reporting and a new Management Dashboard System which Steve’s company had pioneered that would be “an excellent fit for app developer”  He had no ideas what my client did.

He actually called my client an app developer.  They develop embedded system for Industrial automation. That means hardware, software and all the third party integration required to make the system work. My client typically spends weeks to months with each client to understand in great detail all the needs and all the requirements to build highly customized solution.

There are so many lessons here it is hard to know where to start.

Let’s  start with the obvious if your selling “customer focused” as a solution you better be customer focused.

Not knowing what your customer actually does is not a good example of this.

Add to this that you are selling customer focus and you have never spoken with any of the prospects customers to find out if the prospect has or lacks customer focus.

And you have never spoken with anyone else at the prospect company to see if they have a customer focus issue.

Spending five minutes with the CEO does not give you much insight into the company’s challenges and what you do learn is one sided at best.

Aside from all of that there is the matter of a horrible presentation where Steve did all the talking. In a space of 40 minutes the CEO spoke for about 5 minutes and I asked two questions. Steve had a whole meeting in which he could have delved deeper into the company to understand what was going on and how they could work together. He did nothing of the sort.

Steve walked in with a hammer and all he saw was a nail. He had his product and he was determined to sell it regardless of the situation.

While much of what happened points to poor selling techniques and bad consulting practice, it points to a much larger problem.

So how do you do customer focus right? Well the opposite of what Steve did is a good place to start.

  • Know who the prospect is, what they do and why your product or service might be useful to them before you meet with them.
  • When you meet them ask them about them. Discover who they are, what they do and how they do it and how they think of themselves. Look for the challenges and explore those areas in discussion.
  • Understand if and how you might help them. You are not there to convince them, you are there to understand them.
  • Do not assume you understand the prospect even once you have met with them. Make sure you ask confirming question. Do not just take what they say without looking at what is behind it.
  • If you talk the talk you had better walk the walk. You better be authentic or else.
  • Be sure they need what you sell. Nothing is a bigger waste of time for everyone them trying to sell what no one wants or needs.

Note: The names have been change to protect the identity of the people and companies involved.

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